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Fred Gray on Case Western, Cuba Gooding Jr. in Selma

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Bus Ride to Justice by Fred GrayEsteemed civil rights lawyer Fred Gray grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1940s-50s, but to pursue his goal of “destroy[ing] everything segregated that I could find,” he had to leave the state to earn his law degree. Because African Americans weren’t allowed to attend Alabama law schools and Gray knew people who had moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he enrolled at Western Reserve, now know as Case Western Reserve University.

In recognition of the new edition of Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice, Case Western’s Think Magazine‘s Bill Lubinger spoke with Gray about his experiences at the school and about his experiences with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other civil rights events. They also talked about the new movie Selma, produced by Oprah Winfrey, in which Cuba Gooding Jr. has been cast as Gray.

Gray spoke with Lubinger about the revelation in Gray’s new edition of Bus Ride to Justice that he and Rosa Parks had discussed, prior to Parks’s historic arrest, the need for someone to be arrested to serve as an inciting incident to end bus segregation. Gray said, “She worked at a department store a block-and-a-half from where my office was located, so we shared our lunches every day and talked about the conditions on the buses. We talked about what one should do if asked to get up and give up her seat [to a white passenger], and I knew Mrs. Parks was certainly ready to do whatever she could do to end these problems. And, of course, it developed that the opportunity presented itself and she refused to get up and give her seat and was arrested.” Gray subsequently consulted others in the community and made plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Lubinger asked about experiences at Case Western that had an impact on Gray’s life, and Gray recalled that “Professor [Samuel] Sonnenfeld, who was my faculty adviser, told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from more experienced lawyers and share the fee with them.’ If you notice, in all of my early civil rights cases, I always found some lawyer who had more experience than I had to be associated with on the case. It’s one of the guiding principles of my law practice.”

Finally, Lubinger asked Gray, “What do you think of the choice of Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. to play you in Selma, the upcoming movie about the civil rights movement? Any advice on how to play you?”

Gray replied, “I certainly would like the opportunity to talk with him and explain to him a lot of the details . . . and the conversations between Dr. King and me that no scriptwriter of a screenplay would know. I think he’s an excellent actor, and I’m sure he’ll do a very good job.”

Read “A Legal Legend” on the Think Magazine website.

Bus Ride to Justice is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.

Tennessean highlights music program featuring NewSouth’s Frye Gaillard, Davis Raines, Pamela Jackson and others

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Watermelon Wine: The Spirit of Country Music by Frye Gaillard

In a recent features story, The Tennessean‘s Peter Cooper calls Frye Gaillard’s Watermelon Wine “the first great and inspiring book I ever read about Nashville music-makers.” Evidently, our NewSouth author found inspiration in his own work too, as he’s now writing songs and touring with his favorite Nashville singer-songwriters who perform them. The program is titled “Watermelon Wine and the Poetry of Southern Music.” Frye reads passages from from his book, sometimes in the company of NewSouth author Rheta Grimsley Johnson, who reads from her memoir about Hank Williams, Hank Hung the Moon. They are joined by Davis Raines, Pamela Jackson, and Anne E. DeChant.

In the article, Gaillard recalls first meeting Raines and Jackson and his admiration for their talents. The author-turned-lyricist notes: “I don’t find [songwriting] easy,” he says. “There’s the challenge of saying a lot in a small space, and making it rhyme. Having done it now, I’m more amazed at people who have done it really well, over an extended period of time.”

Raines and Jackson are both inspired by Gaillard’s gifts as a chronicler of Southern history, from the Civl War through the civil rights era. They credit him for his poetic lyrics, which describe human resilience in the face of social and economic hardship.

Frye Gaillard and friends continue to take “Watermelon Wine and the Poetry of Southern Music” to venues throughout the Southeast, stopping at public libraries, coffee houses, and universities, too — Belmont University in Nashville, most recently. Always they play to an appreciate audience.

Watermelon Wine and Hank Hung the Moon are available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Eugene Bullard wins Moonbean Children’s Book Award, finalist for New Mexico-Arizona Book Award

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Eugene Bullard: World's First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry GreenlyEugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot has won the Gold Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in the Nonfiction category. The mission of the awards is to “celebrat[e] youthful curiosity and discovery through books and reading” by honoring the best children’s book, authors, and illustrators. The prizes are awarded by Jenkins Group, Inc. and IndependentPublisher, and are given in 43 categories.

The story of pioneering aviator Eugene Bullard is known to military history and aviation enthusiasts, but is not as familiar to the general public. Eugene Bullard recounts Bullard’s story from his birth in 1895 through his combat experiences as as expatriate pilot in World War I and World War II, to his return to America.

Larry Greenly says of the honor, “My award is really a testament to Eugene Bullard and his amazing life. I’m truly grateful that I discovered him, and I can only hope that his legacy will grow evermore. He deserves no less.”

Eugene Bullard is also a finalist for Best Young Adult Book in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, to be announced in November.

Eugene Bullard fans know he had another talent, as a drummer, developed during his time spent in Paris. In a short piece of amazing archival footage turned up by our author, you can see Bullard playing the drums with an ensemble of American jazz musicians in a nightclub called Zelli’s. The source of the video, Critical Past, identifies the flier in its description of the brief film. This historic footage is a rare glimpse of the celebrated pilot after his World War I triumphs.

Eugene Bullard is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Craig Darch featured as Visiting Scribe on Jewish Book Council’s The Prosen People

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen by Craig DarchProfessor Craig Darch got a chance to show off his lively prose style when he was asked to be a Visiting Scribe by the Jewish Book Council. The author of From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen, was featured on the blog The Prosen People the week of September 15-19. Mr. Darch wrote two blog posts pertaining to his authorship of the Rosen biography.

In the first post, “How I Got Interested in Writing the Mel Rosen Biography,” the author reflects on his childhood in South Bend, Indiana, growing up in a family of sports fans who loved discussing the achievements of Jewish athletes. He describes a chance encounter with Coach Rosen that led to his decision to write the book.

The next post, “My Parents’ Legacy, My Library, and the Mel Rosen Biography,” describes Darch’s extensive personal library of Jewish books, including titles on Jews and sports that were helpful to him in the writing of From Brooklyn to the Olympics.

Darch’s family history combining love of good sports tales and of the printed word coalesced into the inspiring biography of Mel Rosen he was destined to author.

From Brooklyn to the Olympics is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Clifton Taulbert shares his Invitation with the world

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 by Ashley Stanaland

The Invitation by Clifton TaulbertClifton Taulbert and his new memoir, The Invitation, have had an exciting summer. By revealing the contrasting worlds of Taulbert’s life — his upbringing in the segregated South and his adulthood as an author and motivational speaker — as well as his own struggles with combining those worlds, The Invitation has caught the attention of readers throughout the country, as well as overseas. Taulbert’s memoir focuses on a single invitation — an invitation that forces Taulbert to face the challenges of his youth and cross the racial divides that his younger self, “Little Cliff,” would have been unable to cross.

The way Taulbert has integrated the challenges of his childhood with the success of his adult life has resonated with many, beginning in Oklahoma, Taulbert’s current home state. Recently, Clifton Taulbert was the focus of “The Trauma of Culture,” a feature story in Oklahoma Magazine that portrays the powerful consequences of the segregated world in which Taulbert was raised, including what Taulbert calls a kind of cultural post-traumatic stress disorder that made him wary to cross certain racial boundaries even as an adult.

Even more recently, Taulbert appeared at Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City as a guest presenter and gave readers an opportunity to have their books signed. KGOU, Oklahoma’s public radio, and The Oklahoman covered the event.

Oklahoma is not the only place seeking Taulbert’s wisdom. Voice of America’s Africa54‘s Vincent Makori interviewed Taulbert about his experiences growing up in the segregated South, and the lessons everyone learns from dealing with the events of their own childhoods.

Lastly, Taulbert traveled around the globe to Australia, where the Dubbo Weekender, a prominent newspaper in Dubbo, New South Wales, featured an interview with Taulbert and a review of The Invitation. During the interview, Taulbert states: “When I looked back at my life and recalled those people who were impactful … it was their unselfishness that shaped my journey — ordinary people just like you and me willing to go that extra mile for the life of someone else. It was nothing earth-shaking about their acts — ordinary caring and admonitions driven by unselfishness and consistency. I call them my ‘porch people’ and such people are not held captive by race, geography, or time.”

No matter where it is, The Invitation is a striking and bold memoir that inspires readers to face their own challenges and become responsible for change in the world.

As ForeWord Reviews writes:

“What with the damning convolutions of ignorance, disingenuousness, and angst that shadow so much of the discussion of race in the United States, it is heartening when hope glimmers, as it does when Clifton Taulbert in The Invitation unpacks his defensive prejudicial baggage acquired as an African American child growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s in a segregated Mississippi Delta.”

Clifton Taulbert’s The Invitation is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Tavis Smiley Show, Associated Press spotlight Voices Beyond Bondage poetry anthology

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th CenturyVoices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century, which seeks to reveal the largely unknown literary heritage of enslaved and free African Americans of that era, received prominent coverage recently with an Associated Press article and a discussion on the Tavis Smiley radio show.

The book, edited by Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis, reprints 150 poems originally published in nineteenth-century black-owned newspapers, which often held open calls for poetry submissions. The recognition of this poetry helps to bring greater depth to the identity of these nineteenth-century African Americans, an identity that has been largely subsumed in popular history by the atrocities of slavery.

“The way history portrays African Americans in the nineteenth-century is really inaccurate,” DeSimone told Tavis Smiley in a recent interview. “It occurred to me that there’s really something valuable here, there’s really something that’s missing from the literary canon.”

Smiley asked DeSimone who the authors of the poems were, and DeSimone explained that they were ministers and abolitionists, “but overall these are people we haven’t heard from, these are people whose voices have not been recorded anywhere outside of these newspapers.” DeSimone added that “reading among slaves was not as uncommon as we think,” and that an estimated ten percent of slaves were literate.

Among those literate slaves was George Moses Horton, spotlighted in Jesse Holland’s Associated Press review of Voices Beyond Bondage, picked up by the ABC News and diverse newspapers serving diverse communities from Delhi, India, to Calgary, Canada. “As a black slave in rural North Carolina in the pre-Civil War South, [Horton] … wasn’t supposed to be able to compose sonnets and ballads,” Holland writes, “But on July 18, 1828, his poem ‘Slavery’ appeared in the newspaper Freedom’s Journal.” According to DeSimone, Horton would “compose poems — beautiful, complex, lush, poems — in his head and have others write them down. In fact, he’d recite these poems and sell them near [the University of North Carolina]; students paid good money to have poems ‘written’ for their girlfriends.”

Another poet in the book, Holland mentions, is John Willis Menard, a newspaper publisher, the first African American elected to the House of Representatives, and the first African American to address Congress.

The various sections in the anthology include poems about freedom, dedications to others, moral and civic perspectives, nature poems, and humor. Smiley asked, “What did black folk find humorous [back then],” and DeSimone gave as examples a “nonsense” poem, a poem decrying the hot weather, and a poetic tale of misguided lovers.

Holland concludes, “DeSimone and Louis’ work expands the field of black poetry, disproves the myth that nineteenth-century African Americans were illiterate or uneducated, and should be a welcome addition to any historian or poetry lover’s library.”

Read Jesse Holland’s “Review: ‘Voices Beyond Bondage’ expands the field of black poetry” online. You can also listen to the Tavis Smiley Show interview with Erika DeSimone from the show’s website..

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Tribute to country star George Hamilton IV by journalist Frye Gaillard

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Country music star George Hamilton IVWriter and historian Frye Gaillard was a long-time friend of country music legend George Hamilton IV, who died Wednesday. Gaillard’s tribute to Hamilton will be read at Hamilton’s memorial service.

I met George Hamilton IV in 1968 when I was a student at Vanderbilt and Robert Kennedy was visiting our campus when he was running for President. We heard that Kennedy was going to be 45 minutes late and we asked George if he would entertain the crowd of 11,000 people. George agreed. But Kennedy turned out to be two hours late and George played the whole time, keeping the crowd both riveted and patient. When the night was over, we sent George a $500 check as a modest token of our gratitude. He refused to accept it, saying that we had bestowed upon him one of the greatest honors of his life.

That was George Hamilton IV, a country music star who refused to act like one. If he had — if he had surrounded himself with the pomp and trappings of stardom — I have no doubt that he would already be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a lapse, I assume, that could still be remedied. But George was much too humble for that, too human and fine to puff himself up, even in the wake of his #1 hit, “Abilene,” his ground-breaking albums full of Gordon Lightfoot songs, his introduction of songs by the greatest folk writers in North America — Joni Mitchel, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs — to a country music audience. If he had had a bigger ego, he would perhaps have been more impressed — more self-important in the memory — of friendships and close musical associations with Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Chet Atkins and many, many more. Or for that matter, by the time he spent with Billy Graham and his multiple performances at Dr. Graham’s crusades.

George Hamilton IV did all of these things in the course of his career, and he did more than anyone in the modern history of country music to spread its gospel to an international audience — from Canada to Great Britain, from Czechoslovakia to New Zealand, even to what was then the Soviet Union.

But above all of this, George Hamilton IV was the kindest, gentlest soul I have ever met, a man who loved his beautiful wife, Tink, his sons, Peyton and George V, and his daughter, Mary, as much as a husband and father ever could. I am saddened by his death more than I have words to express. But I am gladdened by the fact that he spent his life doing what he loved. He thought of himself as a lucky man, and he was.

Almost as lucky as the rest of us, who knew him personally or listened to his songs, and therefore touched a little of his greatness.

In addition to their friendship, George Hamilton IV is profiled in Frye Gaillard’s history of country music, Watermelon Wine.

Texas loves South, America, new work of Southern noir from Rod Davis

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 by Blair Johnson

South, America: A Jack Prine novel by Rod Davis

Rod Davis’s new crime noir novel has made a sweep across Texas in the past few months. Davis’s book, South, America, has been featured in newspapers across the Lone Star state from San Antonio to Austin to Dallas. South, America, which tells the story of former Dallas reporter Jack Prine catapulted into the middle of a murder plot in pre-Katrina New Orleans, has been lauded by the following Texas media:

Jim Sherman, Texas Observer

“There is much here that brings to mind the Dave Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke, and Burke’s norteamericano version of magical realism. For readers’ sakes … I sincerely hope those sequels are on the way.”

Yvette Benavides, San Antonio Express-News

“The backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans is perfect for [South, America]. Davis paints it in tones that show an abiding admiration for the place and its people, and a respect for its enigmatic beauty. A gritty slice of Southern noir.”

Michael King, The Austin Chronicle

“Engaging Southern noir. There are enough loose ands here to provide Prine, and his author, with a few leads into another mystery, or more. Laissez les mauvais temps rouler.”

Gary Jacobson, Dallas Morning News

“A thriller. Author Rod Davis had me right from the start of his new novel. He sets a lively pace, with [Jack] Prine a strong addition to the growing roster of fictional Dallas investigators.”

Laura Carter, San Antonio Current

“The more the web of secrets untangles, the more engrossing the read. And even those who think they’ve figured it all out long before the last pages will likely get a jolt from a couple of late plot twists. Davis is a born storyteller.”

Additionally, the highly regarded Texas Institute of Letters has featured a quite favorable mention of Rod Davis and his new book. Davis was recently inducted in the TIL.

The buzz about South, America isn’t limited to Texas by a long shot. In the coming months Davis will be appearing at literary festivals in Nashville, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, among others. And, of course, the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

Rod Davis’s South, America is available in paperback and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Inspirational author Shelley Stewart receives honors from Vulcan Park and Regions Bank

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Mattie C.'s Boy: The Shelley Stewart StoryShelley Stewart, author of the inspiring memoir Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story, as told to Don Keith, will be honored at the inaugural Vulcan Awards presented by the Vulcan Park and Musuem at a ceremony on Oct. 2 at The Club in Birmingham. According to al.com, Dr. Stewart will receive the Hero Award, given in recognition of his many contributions to the civil rights movement, including helping to organize and promote via radio key events such as the Children’s March of 1963.

Dr. Stewart was also the recipient of the 2014 History in Motion Award, given by Regions Bank, for the work done by his advertising firm 02ideas. Regions profiled Dr. Stewart in the video “Dr. Shelley Stewart: Something Within.” In the video Stewart recounts stories from his boyhood following the tragic murder of his mother by his father and the hardships he endured, as well as the encouragement he received from others who made a difference in his young life. He also discusses his entry into radio, his work in the civil rights movement, and the establishment of The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, named in his mother’s honor, the mission of which is to encourage children to stay in school. The video concludes with a salute to Stewart’s optimistic spirit.

Shelley Stewart, speaking at the National Book Club Conference, August 2014
Dr. Stewart was a featured guest at National Book Club Conference, held in Atlanta August 7-9, where he spoke about Mattie C.’s Boy to an appreciative audience (pictured).

Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Sheldon Hackney remembered by Dixie Redux essayists and Chilmark Author Series

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney

Friends and contributors to Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney came together at a July 31 program to remember Hackney, as part of the Chilmark Author Lecture Series at Martha’s Vineyard.

The panel discussion, lead by journalist and friend of Hackney’s Charlayne Hunter-Gault, included a selection of the Dixie Redux contributors (each authors and scholars in their own right) Vernon Burton, Ray Arsenault, Steven Hahn, and Patricia Sullivan.

Hackney was born in Birmingham, Alabama. During his long career he served as provost of Princeton, as president of the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University, and as chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Burton and Arsenault conceived Dixie Redux — a festschrift, or book written in honor of a mentor — prior to Hackney’s recent diagnosis with ALS and death in 2013 at age 79; NewSouth Books published it just weeks after his passing. Hackney had been Burton’s Ph.D. advisor at Princeton and Arsenault worked as Hackney’s research assistant at Princeton. Burton told the Vineyard Gazette in March 2014 that they “wanted to show [Hackney]‘s intellectual ideas, and how he influenced others in terms of their ideas and writings of the American South. … [Hackney] was foremost one of the great historians of the American South.”

In response to a Vineyard Gazette obituary of Hackney, Hunter-Gault wrote, “Sheldon Hackney showed the world how to be a great human being, a fine Southern gentleman, and a dear friend who never said no when asked a favor — large or small. He will always be a presence in my soul as one of our greatest teachers of all things good. from great and unpedantic scholarship to the love of a double gin martini.”

The essays in Dixie Redux deal with issues of interest to Hackney and his students, including slavery, the Civil War, Emancipation, the African American experience, and the Civil Rights Movement. The book includes an essay by Hackney himself about his own mentor, southern historian C. Vann Woodward.

Chilmark Author Series Program in honor of Sheldon Hackney

Pictured: From left, at the Chilmark Author Lecture Series event, Lucy Hackney (Hackney’s widow), Susan Wishingrad, Patricia Sullivan, Vernon Burton, Steven Hahn, Waldo Martin, Ray Arsenault, and Declan McBride (Hackney’s grandson).

Four Generations of C. Vann Woodward Scholarship

Four Generations of C. Vann Woodward Scholarship. Pictured: Sheldon Hackney, student of C. Vann Woodward, third from left; Vernon Burton, student of Sheldon Hackney, fifth from left; Woodward, sixth from left; and a half-dozen of Burton’s graduate students.

Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.